In its recent Energy Review, the government insisted that new nuclear power has a key role to play in combating climate change and guaranteeing secure energy supplies. Last month we successfully challenged this decision , with the High Court declaring the plan to back new nuclear power stations legally flawed. The Court ruled that the government had failed to present clear proposals and information on key issues surrounding a new generation of nuclear power stations, such as dealing with radioactive waste and financial costs.
And in a new report released this week we highlight another serious flaw in the plan - the dangers posed by flooding from rising sea-levels.
Ironically, while climate change is the government's ostensible reason for building new nuclear power stations, the predicted impacts of climate change on our seas represent a further compelling - and so far mostly over looked - reason why those plants should not be built; at least in the industry's preferred locations adjacent to existing coastal sites.
Because of the need for an isolated site with a plentiful supply of cooling water, all of the UK's nuclear power stations are located on coastal sites, often at very low elevations, and are consequently highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. An increase in global sea level is generally acknowledged to be one of the likeliest outcomes of global warming, as a result of the expansion of warmer water and mountain glaciers.
To understand how much of a threat rising sea-levels pose to our coastal environment we commissioned research from scientists at the Middlesex University Flood Hazard Research Centre. They examined potential impacts to a selection of nuclear power station sites over the lifetime of both existing and proposed nuclear reactors, and investigated the risks to which they would be exposed by rising tide levels, coastal erosion and storm surges. It also highlights the even more disastrous consequences that would ensue upon the loss of a significant area of land-based ice such as the Greenland ice shelf, which could result in a catastrophic global sea level rise.
Three of the four plants under investigation (Bradwell, Dungeness and Hinkley Point) were found to be vulnerable to a one metre or more increase in the height of storm surges, which is predicted to be a regular occurrence by 2080 if nothing is done to cut CO2 emissions. At the fourth, Sizewell in Suffolk, the coastline is "is considered to be vulnerable to change in the long term, with extensive coastline retreat a possibility."
Overall, the review challenges the irresponsible political bravado which argues that 'tough choices' have to be made in favour of nuclear power. It makes it clear - even for those who still believe that nuclear power is clean, safe and the answer to our energy problems - that building new nuclear power stations at existing sites, or at similar coastal locations, would be an act of folly. It will be increasingly difficult and expensive - and eventually perhaps impossible - to maintain the presence of power stations on these sites. To build new reactors in these locations would be to deliver an appalling legacy to future generations.
If we're serious about tackling climate change, we should not be distracted by the false promises of a nuclear future. There are much safer, more reliable, and significantly cheaper alternatives to tackling climate change - namely increased energy efficiency, renewable power technologies and decentralising our energy infrastructure. It is here that we should be looking if we are to achieve a clean energy future and halt the rising tide of global warming.
Download the report: 'The impacts of climate change on nuclear power station sites.'